Summer holiday time can be a great opportunity to look at the places where your ancestors lived.
Quite often I have used time visiting an area to walk down the streets where my ancestors footsteps went before me and just imagining how it would have been in their day.
I will have often have prepared for such a trip beforehand. In most cases using the census collections and copies of trade directories to”get a feel” for the location in their era.
It is important to try and understand the social history of the town or area where our forebears lived, but what about our own history? Shouldn’t we try and document our times for those who follow?
As we grow older we constantly find that things have moved on, streets have changed, businesses have closed up, buildings demolished.
This week I was reminded of this fact by a visit from several cousins of mine to Jersey. A first cousin, his daughter plus fiancé, flew in from Canada, while a first cousin once removed, plus husband, came from the Midlands by plane. (If you find cousin relationships difficult to understand then check out my free report here.)
My elder cousin from Canada had memories of certain shops, that he had gone to with our grandparents and would have liked to have taken a trip to. The problem was that they had long since gone or changed in the intervening years.
We managed, however, to do many of the sites that had family associations for us; but I was still struck at how change in my own lifetime had crept up on my local environment. From the reclamation of land for a cinema, swimming-pool complex, 5 star hotel and housing apartments, which now replaces the beach where my science teacher had taken the class to learn some hands-on Marine Biology, to the house by the airport where my younger cousin (now based in England) had once lived as a child.
This was to be a great story as the Georgian farmhouse had been demolished, as new regulations deemed it to be too close to the airport runway. In actual fact there had been a dreadful air crash when my cousins lived in it, but she and her mother were thankfully away from the house at the time. In the fog a light aircraft had flown into said building with the loss of the pilot’s life.
Yesterday we took a trip to the site of the demolished house and walked around the footprint of the building. It was an eerie feeling as we picked our way over the old foundations.
I noticed the former garden still had flowers and plant bushes in it that indicted its past life as a formal front garden. These hardy specimens fighting through the weeds and wild foliage that aimed to sometime soon take control.
The happy ending to this piece is that the house was demolished stone-by-stone and it has sprung up again in restored Georgian glory as the cladding to a replica house a few miles down the road! The project is ongoing and the people behind it have a website here: http://savethelistedbuilding.com/
Yesterday we were privileged to be allowed to visit the house’s new site and my cousin, who had once lived within its granite structure, was delighted with the restoration and the positive ambience of its new location.
Think of those who will come after us, what stories can we leave them about our times?
I’ve got some advice for you to break down a brick wall.
Have you been stuck trying to find an ancestor?
Thought you might have been!
Maybe what I relate below will help you too.
The thing was that some while back, I was getting quite frustrated by being unable to trace a person in the records.
I was completely stuck finding this person’s birth, marriage or death and I had tried looking online and off without any luck.
Maybe you are in this position too?
What broke the problem for me?
Well it was avisit to a Family History websitewhile surfing forkeywordsto do with the ancestor and then a little bit of time spentbrowsing the transcripts featured on the platform.
There were some other factors, such as trying different spelling variations of first and second names, as advised by my family history teacher at the time and a visit to an archive.
What it boils down to is using a bit of lateral thinking in our family tree research and most importantly finding out about alternative records to the ones that we might have already used.
The family branch that has presented me with the most frustrating problems has been that from Devon. I was fine going back through the census years, 1911, 1901 and so on back to 1841 but then it became more of a problem.
Perhaps this story resonates with some of you to?
I had figured out that my 3x great-grandfather was called John Thorn. This was provided in the information he had given to the census enumerators over the years, along with the fact that he had been born in about 1795. His wife, Elizabeth, had been born about 1798.
As I belong to The Society of Genealogists I took a trip to their headquarters in Goswell Road, London knowing that they have the largest collection of Parish Records in the country on microfiche. They’ve also got some transcripts of parish registers in their library, which I thought may be worth looking at.
If you are in the area I highly recommend you visit the Society of Genealogists.
Unfortunately for me, at the time of my research, the Dartmouth parish records were not on microfilm at the SoG. But I was over the moon to find a great selection of Devon Family History Society booklets for marriages taking place in the churches of the town, including St. Saviour’s, Dartmouth. Browsing one book for any likely ancestors I spotted that on 13 April 1817 one person called John Thorn got married to an Elizabeth Sissell.
I opened up the internet and began searching using my new lead. My mission was to hunt down any evidence that this was the marriage of my ancestors.
Doing a search-engine query for Dartmouth + family history steered me towards the Dartmouth-history.org.uk website belonging to The Dartmouth Archives. I discovered that this voluntary organisation had a really broad family history section and included a number of transcribed baptisms, burials, marriages and census records.
I could read the very same information, as I had seen at the SoG in London, on this niche site. The data began in 1586 and ran to 1850 and there was the marriage of John Thorn to Elizabeth and this time I noticed that the witness were given as John Adams and Sunass (sic) Sissell.
At the time I made an assumption that this last person was more than likely some member of the bride’s family. Could it perhaps be the father of the bride?
But that name “Sunass” just didn’t seem likely to me. Now I know that it was the best guess by the transcriber as it couldn’t be read properly in the original record.
From the information I knew that they had signed with a mark, thus they were illiterate and so the first name and the second had not been written down by the ancestors themselves.
When you are doing your own research you should bear in mind that our ancestors may not have had the ability to read or write and the minister may have interpreted the name as he had heard it said to him. In my ancestor’s case the surname “Sissell” could possibly have been “Cecil” or something entirely different. Consider saying the name with the regional accent and seeing what you come up with.
As for Sunass – at this point I was clueless!
The Dartmouth Archives website had not got any early enough christening records for John and Elizabeth and so I went over to the Latter Day Saints (LDS) website or FamilySearch.org and here I did a search for Elizabeth’s christening.
I was rewarded by a lead to a baptism in one of the other churches in Dartmouth, St Petrox, on the 16 September 1878. This child was the daughter of James and Sarah Sissill and she was christened Elizabeth Gardener Sissill.
You may notice that the spelling had changed to Sissill with an “i” and not an “e” again pointing to the vicar writing it down the way that he heard it.
I now jumped to a conclusion that the witness to Elizabeth’s marriage could have been her father “James” and this has been interpreted as “Sunnas” because a flowing “J” for James had looked like an “S” to the transcriber and the other letters had been misread as a “u” for an “a” and the double “n” as an “m”. All easily done.
So what I am emphasising here and I continue to do so in modules from my Family History Researcher Course, is to be wary of names and the way they were spelt. If you keep this in mind then some of the logjams we find in our research can be got past.
This breakthrough I had was down to finding that Dartmouth has an active family history website and then using their indexes in conjunction with other internet resources, such as the LDS site.
The first learning point is that you should always find out what other research may have been done, for the area your ancestors came from.
If you find a family history society, or local interest group with a website, can any of their publications or website pages help you with your quest?
Secondly, always keep in mind that names were misspelled in many records. In my own family research I have had to think of other spellings for the Sissells, and indeed names that may have sounded like Sissell in order that I may trace this line back further and break down the brick wall.
I have made some fantastic strides in my family tree research and it is mostly down to learning as much as I can from other’s experiences and finding out as much as I can about what records and resources are available.
Last year I put together some modules for a course of 52 guides, aiming at passing on my experience. Perhaps they can help you become a more knowledgeable researcher?
I had some professional genealogists and data providers also contribute to the project to make it well rounded.
As you have come to this page I am sure that you must have an interest in family history and I am betting that you to have some brick walls to knock down as well. So take a look at the report below that is based on some of the material from the Family History Researcher course…
It tells of their most recent release of World War I records and the unique nature of the launch that links records of Soldiers who died in the First World War to their war graves.
These War Office records give full details about a soldier and are linked to where they are buried or commemorated on a memorial.
For the first time it is now possible to find the death record of an ancestor who fought and died in the First World War and with one further mouse-click, discover where they are buried or commemorated through a unique link to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website which provides colour images and details on the War Cemetery including exact location, brief history of the regiments involved and the battles fought.
In a matter of seconds it is possible to trace an ancestor and gain an idea of the history of the battle or military importance of the location of where they fell. It really helps speed up your military research.
From 16 year old Private John Parr, who was the first British soldier to be killed in action on the 21st August 1914 on a patrol north east of Mons, to the last British soldier to die, Private George Edwin Ellison, who fought in most of the major World War One battles only to be killed an hour and a half before the Armistice on 11 November 1918 on patrol on the outskirts of Mons. Both John Parr and George Ellison are buried facing each other at the St Symphorien Military Cemetery having fought and died in ironically the same area of the Western Front, only four years apart emphasising the stalemate of the First World War.
The records link through to TheGenealogist’s other unique military records such as Prisoner of War records, casualty lists and war memorials. For instance you can find the record of Harry Topliffe within this new record set, showing us he enlisted with the Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment) and was living in Stamford Brook, Middlesex.
Harry was posted to Mesopotamia to fight the Turkish Army. A Prisoner of War record shows that he was imprisoned in Kut-El-Amara and a casualty list record shows that he died there, as a Prisoner. Harry is also listed in TheGenealogist’s War Memorial records, on a memorial within the Harrod’s store in London (he was an employee within the removals department). TheGenealogist then uniquely links to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to show that he was buried in the Baghdad North Gate War Cemetery.
The 650,000 records of the soldiers who died in the First World War provide full details of the serviceman, including full name, where they were born, place of residence, place of enlistment, their rank and service number, cause and date of death and the regiment they served with.
Mark Bayley, Head of Online Content at TheGenealogist.co.uk, comments: “This latest release adds to our unique military collection. These records are great for those looking into what happened to their ancestor in the First World War. With the direct link from the soldiers who died on to the various other collections we hold, along with a link to where they are commemorated, one click gives you the story behind your ancestor’s military history.”
Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links are used in this post.
I was having a chat with a professional genealogist recently.
During the discussion I mentioned a particular brick wall that I had in my family tree.
“When was the last time you reviewed it?” he asked.
“Ah, I see what you mean!” I replied. “It is over six months since I sent it to the back burner and concentrated on other easier to find people.”
It is a lesson that even I forget to do and that is to periodically go back and see if, with new information you can now make some progress.
New record sets may have become available in the time since you last looked at your ancestor. It may be the release of yet more transcripts by Family History Societies, or those of the genealogical retailers that can now aid you. New parish records may have been uploaded to the likes of Ancestry, TheGenealogist or Findmypast.
Your ancestor may appear in one of the more diverse data sets that the subscription sites are releasing such as the Tithe Records on TheGenealogist, new occupational records on Ancestry, or The British in India records on Findmypast.
It is not just the case of reviewing the recently released documents on the subscription sites, that I am advocating. Take a look again at sets you may already have used. Perhaps, in the light of your experience and any new found knowledge that you have gained since last you looked, the answers may now be clear.
With my friend’s advice I set about looking again at a brick wall that I had in Devon.
In 1794 I have a John Thorn marrying a Sarah Branton in Plymouth in the parish of Charles on the 12th January. This John Thorn is not listed as being of the parish, yet his wife is.
They then move quickly to Dartmouth where their son, also called John is born with the child being baptised on the 28th September of the same year. In the marriage register, in Plymouth, John Thorn Senior was listed as a mariner and so it does not surprise me much that they pitch up along the coast at another port. But then what happens to them?
We are taught to always kill off our ancestors as good practice. In my case I had not found the death records for John Thorn Senior, nor of his wife Sarah. I had an inkling that they probably settled in Dartmouth, as the line remains there for another two to three generations, but I did not know if they stayed or not.
Since reviewing my notes on the searches I made, in the parish records at the Devon Heritage Centre in Exeter, I have now realized that I had indeed found a possible burial of a John Thorn in Dartmouth in January 1810, but had not entered it into my family tree.
The page from the parish of St Saviour’s, Dartmouth, had helpfully given me the information that this particular John Thorn was only 41 at his death This means he could be a candidate for the marriage in 1794, as he would have been 25 in that year.
When I last looked at the parish records, on the visit to the Devon Heritage Centre (previously the County Record Office), I had been disappointed not to have found the burial entry for his wife Sarah in the same parish and so I had put this line of enquiry aside.
But now, as I looked back at my notes, I see that I had also done a thorough job and looked at all the other churches in the town. I had found, among all the people buried in Dartmouth, and with the correct surname, one Sarah Thorn aged 50.
This Sarah Thorn is buried at the Parish church of St Clement’s, Townstall, Dartmouth on the 21st June 1818. At 50 she would have been born in 1768 and so she may well have been the wife of John, who was buried 8 years prior in the daughter church of St Saviour’s that is closer to the port.
Looking back at my visit to the record office I can recall that I finished my trawl of the parish record microfiche as a deadline for me to leave approached. I had a flight to catch from Exeter Airport and a connecting bus from outside of the Met Office to get me there. In my rush I had noted down the finding but had not looked at it in the right frame of mind. So perhaps here is another reason for reviewing your brick walls.
Now that the Devon Parish Records are on Findmypast I was recently able to go back and look at them at my leisure. This time without the pressure of missing a flight and so I can hypothesize that these two individuals are very possibly my direct ancestors.
Regretfully, with the paucity of information to identify someone contained in the pages of most parish records, I can not be completely sure. As with anyone with a common name there is always the possibility that they are simply namesakes.
If you would like to learn more about Death records, parish registers or good practice in doing English/Welsh family history then take a look at joining the Family History Researcher.
There is a special trial offer price of £1 for the first 2 weeks at the moment. Click the banner below.
A collection of over half a million unique Parish Records has been added to TheGenealogist.
These cover the counties of Essex, Kent, Leicestershire, Monmouthshire and Worcestershire. The new online records offer invaluable records of baptisms, marriages and burials dating from the 1500s to the late 1800s from Anglican parish registers. The records are a great tool for those people looking to track down early ancestors before civil registration.
The latest releases bring the total to over 2 million parish records already added in 2014 with more to come. Fully searchable and clearly transcribed on TheGenealogist, they provide hundreds of years of records helping you find those early ancestors to further extend your family tree.
Mark Bayley, Head of Online Content at TheGenealogist remarked: “With Parish and Nonconformist Records it is possible to go back so much further and you never know what new surprises or dramatic events you may uncover in the records. We are continually adding more records to our already extensive collection throughout 2014.”
Discover surprising details that can be found in the Parish Record collection.
Many of the records are rare, historic parish records, published online for the first time and offer us unexpected information of dramatic events at the time. In the latest records, we find details of one of the protestant martyrs in the 1500s.
Protestants in England & Wales were executed under Queen Mary I with legislation that punished anyone found guilty of heresy against Roman Catholicism. The standard penalty for treason was execution by being hung, drawn and quartered. In this case, however, the punishment of “burning” was used for those found guilty of not being of the Catholic faith.
At least 300 people were recognised as martyred over the five years of Mary’s reign, causing her to be known as “Bloody Mary”. The name of one of the world’s most popular cocktail drinks is also said to be named after her!
A number of the executions were carried out in the county of Essex including that of linen draper, Thomas Wattes from Billericay, whose wife Elizabeth is found in the new parish records. Here we see the burial record of Elizabeth Wattes in the parish of Great Burstead on TheGenealogist. Her record describes her husband as a “Martyr of God” with the added extra note in the record giving details of his death- “The Blessed Martyr of God who for his truth suffered his martyrdom in the fire at Chelmsford.”
Oliver Cromwell and his son Robert Cromwell
Robert Cromwell appears in the new parish record sets buried in the parish of Felsted in Essex, son of Oliver Cromwell. Robert was the eldest son of Oliver and Elizabeth Cromwell and he died whilst away studying at school at the age of 18. Here we find a copy of his burial record from 1639.
The Genealogist site has an extremely comprehensive collection of data sets, which are ever growing. Their ability to react quickly to their customers was demonstrated to me only this week when I had a problem resolved by them within minutes of me bringing it to their attention.
At a time when social media is full of complaints about the functionality of other genealogical data sites, I’d recommend you take a serious look today at what is on offer from TheGenealogist
Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links are used in this post.
DNA Testing is now accessible to everyone as TheGenealogist offers DNA tests from under Â£50 and slashes prices by up to Â£150 on other tests!
Due to the increase in popularity of DNA testing and advances in technology, TheGenealogist is now able to offer DNA testing for genealogical research at significantly reduced prices. Itâ€™s never been more affordable to add your DNA to the worldâ€™s largest genealogical DNA database and start finding matches. You can see the prices and compare the various tests at www.thegenealogist.co.uk/dna
As family historians, DNA testing can really assist our family history research and help us break down those brick walls. Many researchers find the maternal line difficult to trace using traditional methods such as census and parish records. However, an mtDNA test could prove invaluable to your research and help you discover missing ancestors or add a new line to your research. The test can be taken by both males and females and helps you trace that maternal line.
Itâ€™s straightforward and can all be done online with the minimum of effort. A kit is sent out to you and you simply post it back to get added to the DNA database and discover your results!
Mark Bayley from TheGenealogist comments: â€With prices from under Â£50, DNA testing is now finally affordable to the vast majority of family historians. DNA matches are provided against the largest database in the world.â€
The Range of DNA Tests on offer
TheGenealogist offers 3 types of testing- the â€˜Mitochondrialâ€™ mtDNA (maternal line) testing, theâ€™ Y-Chromosomeâ€™ Y-DNA test (for paternal lines) and the Family Finder test, which tests both male and female lines and also tells you your ethnic percentages. With prices starting from under Â£50, itâ€™s become more affordable than ever.
Itâ€™s amazing to discover how far DNA testing can help us trace our ancestry. A skeleton of a twenty three year old hunter who died 9,000 years ago was discovered in a cave in Cheddar, Somerset and Mitochondrial DNA testing was able to identify a local school teacher as a direct descendant. The same principles are being applied to the discovery of at least twenty eight early human skeletons found recently in the mountains of Northern Spain, the â€˜Sima de los Huesosâ€™ tribe, who are undergoing Mitochondrial DNA tests. This DNA is passed down through the maternal line and is easier to recover from ancient bones.
Not so long ago we just never heard of DNA being used in everyday situations. And then suddenly every detective story on TV seemed to mention the suspect’s DNA being collected from the crime scene.
In the world of family history, DNA has also emerged into the main stream. Today if you want to prove that you are descended from a certain line then you may be able to use genetics to prove it.
But then there is the shorthand that is used that can confuse us a little. You may have heard people talking about “snips” or SNPs and STRs and wondered what this has to do with anything!
I will now attempt to explain what I myself was uncertain of until I attended one of the talks by an academic at last year’s Who Do You Think You Are? Live show and then found it explained again in chapter 12 of Anthony Adolph’s book Tracing Your Aristocratic Ancestors. Pen and Sword 2013
Chromosomes are made up of special proteins and DNA. DNA is composed of numerous base-pairs of nucleotides all arranged in a double-helix shape.
In every human cell there is a nucleus that contains twenty-two pairs of chromosomes that bear autosomal DNA and one pair that decides on the gender of the human. The two sets of chromosomes are reduced down to one in a process of myosis that produces eggs in females and sperm in males.
When a man and a woman have a child the male passes on the one set of his chromosomes and mixes with the female’s one set and so the next generation inherits from its parents.
It is a complex process that causes some slight changes or mutations which are known as genetic polymorphisms. Some of these mutations include single nucleotide polymorphisms which are often abbreviated to the letters SNPs.
A single tandem repeat is known as a STR.
SNPs and STRs do not, it is believed by the scientists who understand such things, carry any useful codes needed in the creation of ourselves, but they are there.
Individual genes have two or more possible states of being and these are usually referred to by the letters A or T and C or G.
An SNP is a change detected in a gene’s state of being from, say, A to G and you may see it being called a â€œunique event polymorphismâ€. Once a SNP has occurred it will now stay the same as it is passed down the generations and so you can see how this can act as a reliable marker for â€œdeep ancestryâ€ haplogroup testing.
So what about STRs?
They are a bit different. STRs occur in a different part of the chromosome and they are a series of multiple changes caused by the addition or subtraction of the number of base-pairs. So by counting these base-pairs the DNA company get to a numerical code. The great thing about these mutations is that they occur over a shorter time than the SNPs do and so they can change over shorter spans of generations.
Y-STRs are taken specifically from the male Y chromosome and are only passed down by the father, making the Y chromosome in any paternal line practically identical.
What we are presented with is two complementary sets of results: SNPs define a person’s haplogroup, or the group of people that share the same markers that can go back many thousand of years. The second is the smaller group of people that share the same STRs who are related to each other over the last couple of thousand years or less.
The second exception is mitochondrial DNA (mt-DNA). This is only passed down from a mother to her child, but which only her daughters will pass on. This means that we have a definite marker for the female-line, in other words the mother’s mother’s mother’s (and so on) family.
As we get closer to Christmas I have noticed that www.familytreedna.com are offering money off their packages for the holiday season. Do you know anyone who would like to have a present of a DNA test as it would seem to be a good time to buy?
Disclosure: Links are compensated affiliate links.
7,000 new naval war records from The Battle of Jutland now available to view in the â€˜Roll of Honourâ€™ collection on TheGenealogist!
I was looking at a family tree this week that recorded a family who had lost a number of their children in the late 1890s and then again a son in the First World War. To have him survive through to adulthood and then to lose him to enemy action must have seemed cruel fate to his parents.
Although some of my ancestors served in the Royal Navy I am not aware of any that took part in the Battle of Jutland, but for any of you that know your ancestors participated in the largest naval battle of the First World War, then this new data set is a must.
This week I’ve been told by my friends at TheGenealogist.co.uk that they have made available 7,000 new naval war records from that battle.
Here is what the team at TheGenealogist said about this new release…
Did your ancestor participate in the largest naval battle of The First World War? Now available to Gold and Diamond subscribers to TheGenealogist is a full record set of the Royal Navy servicemen killed or wounded in the Battle of Jutland. TheGenealogist is the only family history site to provide a complete specialist section devoted to these battle records.
After a number of smaller naval engagements in the first two years of World War One, the Battle of Jutland was the first major naval battle involving the large dreadnought battleships on both sides. Involving 250 ships and around 100,000 men it was the major naval military battle of the First World War.
After breaking German code, the British knew of the German plan to try to destroy the British fleet in two engagements and so left port to use the element of surprise and catch the German fleet off the coast of Denmark. What was hoped to be a decisive British victory turned into a confused and bloody battle with many British casualties.
The Royal Navy lost 14 ships and suffered nearly 7,000 casualties. The Germans lost 11 ships and 2,551 men. Confused leadership and poor quality ammunition hindered the Royal Navy in the battle and the losses shook morale in Britain at the time.
The new Battle of Jutland records provide a full list of the men killed or wounded in the battle with their rank, name of ship and date of death taken from official Admiralty sources. Records of the men lost range from Rear Admiral Robert Arbuthnot, commander of the 1st Cruiser Squadron who went down with his flagship HMS Defence, to 16 year old Jack Rutland who although mortally wounded stayed at his post on board the damaged HMS Chester.
Although the losses were heavy, the Royal Navy was still a major fighting force and the German fleet never put to sea again in such large numbers to challenge British sea superiority.
Available to view in the â€˜Roll of Honourâ€™ section of the Military Records on TheGenealogist, the records are taken from the Battle of Jutland â€˜New Perspectiveâ€™ publication which studied the battle in detail.
Mark Bayley, Head of Online Content at TheGenealogist comments: â€œAs we near one hundred years since the start of the First World War, TheGenealogist has added further unique records to its already extensive military collections.â€
Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links are used above.